Tom Zeller, who covers blogging for the NY Times wrote Qwest Goes From the Goat to the Hero about Qwest‘s stellar performance in the recent NSA-phone company imbroglio. Qwest was the only one of four national telecommunications giants to just say no to Big Brother when he came knocking for phone records on all their customers:
…News of the N.S.A. program, particularly in this fiercely polarized political climate, has turned a beleaguered regional phone company with a somewhat lackluster customer-service record into a gleaming political touchstone and a beacon of consumer protection.
“Qwest: N.S.A.-Free,” exclaims an image button making the rounds on liberal blogs at the end of last week. “Who are you with?”
Zeller notes that Qwest’s previous record has been less than stellar with major cases brought against it by the SEC, its former CEO facing insider stock trading charges, and one of the worst customer service records among the majors.
But every dog has its day and Qwest’s was the day when this sordid story came out:
Only Qwest had refused, according to the report, citing the “legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants.”
Companies can’t buy that kind of buzz.
Here’s where Zeller’s article really hit the mark for me, a Qwest customer who’s endured my own share of outrageous slings and arrows with this company over the years (in fact I wrote a post here called Why I Hate Qwest):
Of course, some of the praise was more grudging — particularly among existing Qwest customers who nonetheless oppose what they considered to be government snooping.
“Good for Qwest, but, ugh, an otherwise horrible phone company,” wrote Craig Randall, at Americablog.
A current (and unhappy) Qwest customer from Iowa reported that “we have only recently had an option to switch local providers in this rural area, and I have planned to leave Qwest and go with a smaller outfit built by my town.”
No longer. “Just when I thought I was done with them they go and do something terrific. I’ll write and tell them why I’m staying.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the company’s core products, but a customer is a customer.
I’ve pretty much followed the same path as this customer. Even though my current cell phone provider, Verizon Wireless says it didn’t participate in the NSA deal, I decided to switch my cell service to Qwest. Given my twilight-zone customer service experience with them in the past (nothing bad for the past 2-3 years though), I trembled a bit before signing myself over to Qwest. But I felt I was doing the right thing. I also made a point of telling a Qwest sales manager how proud I was of the company’s position and suggested that they should use this in a marketing campaign. What I didn’t realize was that a company which hoped to do business with the federal government probably shouldn’t rub the feds nose in its defiance on this particular issue.
I believe in rewarding a company for doing the right thing and punishing one for doing the wrong thing. And though Verizon Wireless did not do a wrong thing, I went through my own hellish experience trying to find out from them what position they did take vis a vis the NSA. I figured if a company’s customer service managers allow a customer like me to believe the company is cooperating with the NSA and its corporate spokesperson won’t say more than eight words about the company’s relationship to the NSA, then that company isn’t worth my patronage. I say this despite the fact that my entire experience with VW until now has been terrific. It just goes to show that a single major corporate misstep can ruin an otherwise “beautiful relationship” nurtured over years.
Instead of Verizon Wireless’ “Can You Hear Me Now?” ad slogan I’m thinking of another media bit: the Bill Murray character on Saturday Night Live who used to shout: “I can’t hear you!” That’s what I think Verizon Wireless represents these days. Seems like Qwest has been doing a better job of listening to its customers needs and clearly articulating the rationale behind its corporate decisions.